Senior Masorti figures resign over New North London rabbi furore

Senior Masorti figures resign over New North London rabbi furore

A senior member of the Masorti movement has resigned in protest at an associate synagogue’s decision not to dismiss a rabbi who called Israeli politicians “war criminals” who “manufactured a famine in Gaza”.

Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov of New North London Synagogue wrote in a “Justice-orientated” Haggadah companion: “…the same war criminals who have forced Palestinian families to flee their homes will lift up their matzah and wax poetic about the Israelites’ rush to escape Egypt.”

“The same politicians who have manufactured a famine in Gaza, leading millions to the brink of starvation, will proudly declare: ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat’.”

Damon Lenszner and another person who has asked not to be named, said that New North London Synagogue’s decision to retain Rabbi Yom-Tov made their positions as directors and council members of the affiliated South Hertfordshire and Edgware Masorti Community (known as SHEMA) untenable.

In a letter to the SHEMA Community’s joint chairs, they wrote: “’When 7/10 is your point of reference, all members of the Diaspora must be aware of the damage that comments such as those of the NNLS Community Rabbi do. It clearly inflames antisemitic hysteria. Coming from any employee of Masorti Judaism would be bad enough, but from a Rabbi, the damage is unacceptable.

“In the past, Masorti Judaism has been proud of their Centrist position. By continuing to employ a far-left extremist rabbi, they are promoting a totally different position, one with which we feel uncomfortable being associated. Therefore, we cannot continue with the duties of Director/Council Member of an associated synagogue.”

Speaking to the JC, Lenszner, who is executive director of Herut UK, a right-wing political Zionist group, said: “Coming out with statements about ‘war crimes’ when Israel is in a state of war and there is massive antisemitism at the moment hurts all of us.

“The Masorti movement purports to be very centrist politically when it comes to Israel, so a Masorti rabbi shouldn’t hold those views. I can’t be director of an associated synagogue, when [Masorti] employs someone with extreme left-wing views.”

Lenszner said he would continue as a member of SHEMA, where congregants were “like-minded and strong supporters of Israel”, but he would “love to see the synagogue become independent” rather than continue under the umbrella of the Masorti movement.

His comments followed an emergency general meeting at NNLS on Sunday, reportedly attended by 500 members.

The previous evening, members had been sent a letter by synagogue leaders saying that the NNLS council had “voted unanimously not to dismiss Rabbi Lara” but that a disciplinary process had led to a finding of “serious misconduct”.

Following previous calls for Rabbi Yom Tov’s resignation in a letter which had been signed by 130 NNLS members, the rabbi issued an apology to congregants, writing: “I apologise for using the term ‘war criminals’. I recognise that through my words, I’ve caused pain to many members of our community and damaged our relationship. I missed the mark and I’m sorry.”

The issue has divided the community, with one NNLS member, who asked to remain anonymous, telling the JC: ”It is depressing that when there is such a need to reclaim the middle ground of what religious Zionism might mean today, that in retaining student Rabbi Lara, it would certainly seem that the NNLS leadership has been usurped by the extreme left.

“Using the language that Student Rabbi Lara did in their haggadah article cannot be cast as a mistake, it is symptomatic of long-standing involvement with anti-Zionist organisations that for many make their position untenable.”

Rabbi Yom-Tov has had previous involvement with anti-Zionist organisation Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as Halachic Left. 

However, another member said: “My impression is that they are very well liked and during the time that they’ve been here, they have made a very positive impact.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but there are hundreds of supporters of Rabbi Lara’s work and their right to speak their opinions.

“A small minority want to make divisions, but the overwhelming majority of people want to handle differences constructively and heal the community.”

Co-CEO Louise Froggett told the JC: “Following an internal investigation and after taking legal advice, the Council voted unanimously not to terminate Rabbi Lara’s employment but to issue a finding of serious misconduct. Whilst we acknowledge there are a range views on the Council’s decision, we urge all members to act in accordance with the values of the community as we draw a line under the matter and move forward.”

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